Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
What’s your vision of a healthy, regular family meal? Would it be having dinner on the table by six o’clock a during the week. Or, is it a dream of having the entire family around the dinner table at least once a week despite schedules that conflict? How will your kids of all ages possibly enjoy a healthy meal without complaining or constantly wanting to be on their phone or tablet?
Developing a schedule that works for everyone which includes food choices that all enjoy is a challenge! Remember that taste buds and food likes and dislikes are different for each family member. Some support eating healthy and some do not. Family eating styles are different and so are individual likes and dislikes. Families need to make healthy eating a priority and attainable by all family members which takes time and energy. All families are different, and eating styles reflect those differences.
Here are some suggestions for facilitating family meals in your household:
Make Eating Together at the Dining Table a Priority
Make it a family rule that several days a week or more, the family group will eat together while having open discussions with NO phones or tablets at the table. If dinner is not possible, try breakfast or prioritize several family meals during the weekend. Family bonding, interaction, and communication are important for all. This time can be used as a “teachable moment” of learning about healthy lifestyle habits and is important for everyone, in the family to sit down together whether they are old or young.
Offer Only One Option for Picky Eaters
If you have picky eaters in your family, you may be tempted to make different dishes to please everyone. Try your best not to fall into this habit. Instead, make only one main dish per meal.
Make Your Kid Your Meal Helper
Encourage your kids to give you a hand in the kitchen. They will help to lighten your workload and they will be invested in the preparation process. By helping you, they will be more willing to accept new foods including vegetables, fruit, whole grains and dairy.
Plan Ahead for the Week
Choose one day of the week for meal planning and commit to spending a few hours planning, buying and preparing a few healthy meals. Have your kids help you through the whole process, from planning to grocery shopping and meal preparation. Think through the whole process including storing leftovers.
Be a Role Model for Your Family
The best way to get your family to eat something new is to show them that you eat it and enjoy it too. Kids are more likely to try new foods or foods that they think are “yucky” if they see their parents and siblings enjoying them. Avoid expressing dislike to impressionable kids when you are trying new foods.
By taking small steps and committing to these simple solutions, you have the opportunity to lead your family toward adopting healthier eating habits. Although hectic schedules may make it seem daunting, following these tips can encourage family bonding and may even inspire your kids to enjoy healthy meals.